Don’t let performance anxiety derail your SharePoint 2010 installation

SharePoint experts say a successful SharePoint 2010 installation and managing it on an ongoing basis becomes easier with proper planning and the foresight to deal with possible performance issues.

SharePoint 2010 has been making steady gains as the enterprise collaboration platform of choice. However, many potential end users remain resistant. The problem: performance issues that result in excruciating waits for pages to load or service interruptions at critical times.

The bad news is that user frustration can become so intractable that some workers will only use the software under threat. The good news is that most of the SharePoint challenges that cause that frustration are detectable and fixable, according to SharePoint consultants. With proper planning and the foresight to deal with possible performance issues, they said, making the case for a SharePoint 2010 installation and managing it on an ongoing basis should become easier.

“Performance is absolutely an issue,” said Richard Harbridge, senior SharePoint evangelist with Allin Corp.,  a Boston-based consulting and IT services firm. “This can be even more of a problem when your environment is geographically dispersed, with connected offices in the U.S. and Mexico or EMEA [Europe, the Middle East and Africa], for example.” While many of these challenges are related to bandwidth, Harbridge noted that limiting the page weight (the collective size of files on a page) of frequently used pages can ease the bandwidth load.

Go with the workflow
“One of the great things about SharePoint is its ability to support complex workflow applications,” said Ori Fishler, director of Web solutions at Edgewater Technology Inc., an IT strategy consulting firm based in Wakefield, Mass. But the steps involved in a resource-intensive workflow can slow SharePoint applications or lead to service breaks, he cautioned. Not surprisingly, the problem is most acute in large enterprises that have particularly complex application workflows.

There are, however, a few ways to improve workflow issues. One is to beef up server resources by adding more memory to existing servers; another is to add more servers, especially in a virtual environment. “Adding a front-end server and load-balancing the application is the surest way to improve performance and scalability,” Fishler said.

A third option is to tweak the performance of the SharePoint database. Bottlenecks can occur when workflow tasks, status reports and logs are all stored in the SharePoint database. Instead, create a nightly process to trim logs, update statistics and re-index information, separating all the data and log files on to different disks, Fishler advised.

A solid SQL Server foundation
SharePoint is tightly integrated with SQL Server, but this can also lead to performance issues. “SharePoint relies so intrinsically on SQL Server that it’s important to make sure your environment has a solid database foundation,” said Chris McNulty, SharePoint consultant and practice director at Knowledge Management Associates LLC, a technology consulting firm based in Waltham, Mass.

Users will mistrust a system if they are unable to save changes in the middle of editing a file, McNulty explained, and the most common reason this happens within a SharePoint farm is a “full” disk volume. Such occurrences are usually caused by SQL Server backups; to combat the disk-hogging log, he suggests configuring backups to truncate transaction logs afterward or to keep the database in simple recovery mode, which reclaims log space to lessen space requirements.

A common SQL Server optimization trick is to separate the database and log files, but SharePoint changes the process a little because it is so much more read-intensive than write-intensive. The SQL Server performance of a large content database (100 GB or more) can be improved by spreading it across two or more database files, according to McNulty. This boosts the overall I/O throughput of database read operations. “This means faster systems and happier clients,” McNulty said. The downside is that each file must be saved on a different logical disk and an independent set of disk spindles.

Time for an upgrade?
For organizations that are using earlier versions of SharePoint, just upgrading to SharePoint 2010 can result in substantial performance improvements, Harbridge said. Architectural changes in SharePoint Server 2010  mean that individual shared-services functions are configured as separate service applications, making it easier to selectively increase computing resources on a per-service basis on different servers in a SharePoint farm.

SharePoint 2010 also includes some new diagnostic tools. These include a developer dashboard that helps pinpoint where application bottlenecks and slowdowns may be. There’s also a SharePoint 2010 Administration Toolkit that includes a tool called SharePoint Diagnostic Studio. It enables you to quickly troubleshoot issues and diagnose SharePoint performance problems. “The number of things it can report on quickly and easily is pretty massive,” Harbridge said. “So are the features within it that allow you to zoom in on a specific time window, user activity, correlation token and so on.”

Performance in and of itself isn’t the only problem that can lead to frustrated users, though. SharePoint administrators can become so focused on improving and optimizing SharePoint systems for faster performance that they neglect to manage user expectations about the software’s capabilities, even when it is operating at peak levels.

“If you have large files of 40 MB or more on SharePoint, it’s going to take time to download and upload those files no matter how much you optimize SharePoint,” Harbridge said. “This is particularly true if you’re in an area with low network speeds.”

End users may not understand exactly what SharePoint 2010 is and what it can reasonably be expected to do. The solution to this problem, he said, is nothing more complicated than good, old-fashioned user education and training.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim O’Donnell is a technology writer and editor who has written about enterprise collaboration systems for many years. You can reach him at jimodonnell1@comcast.net.

This was first published in September 2011

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